A somewhat sedate conspiracy thriller, Closed Circuit is the latest on-screen outing for Australia’s Eric Bana, who has also taken a hands-on role in distributing the film in his home territory. The film starts, literally, with a bang when a series of split-screen CCTV images – each one a separate drama within a crowded London market – become fused in smoke and mayhem when a bomb blast rips through the complex. Turkish man Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto) is quickly deemed the culprit and his speedy arrest is the first indicator that all is not as it seems. It is these opening moments of the film that promise so much, only some of which is ultimately delivered.
Bana plays arrogant defence barrister Martin Rose, who is in the midst of a divorce when the case is thrust into his lap following the suicide of the lawyer initially appointed to the case. Somewhat problematic for Rose is the fact that the classified nature of much of the evidence means that he is not allowed to see it in his efforts to defend his client. Only a court in closed session can determine if the evidence should be used in the trial and Special Advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall), with appropriate security clearances and operating under strict conditions of secrecy, is appointed to argue for full disclosure. Although on the same team, Martin and Claudia are prohibited from discussing the case. With an affair between the two of them having seemingly been the catalyst for Martin’s divorce, there is initial tension that quickly dissipates as the real reasons for the withholding of evidence become clear and the situation becomes much more perilous than either of them anticipated.
The machinations of the case and the culpability of the various intelligence agencies are extremely relevant in a contemporary context and the film certainly does offer some food for thought with regard to the ultimate price to be paid when things don’t go according to plan. Whilst Martin seems to stumble upon the truth very easily, the audience only learns of the facts when he reveals them to others – usually Claudia or his duplicitous colleague Devlin (Ciarin Hinds). There are no Bourne-like chases or action sequences to be found, the closest we get is when the key witness escapes custody or when Claudia is attacked in her home. The film does demonstrate the all-pervasive nature of CCTV surveillance in modern London (and elsewhere no doubt) – on more than one occasion, we track the movements of the various protagonists from such a perspective – yet has very little to say on the broader implications of such technology.
The performances from Bana, who refuses to be pigeon-holed in the roles he takes on, and Hall, who is looking more like a young Molly Ringwald every day, are fine given the material, while Julia Stiles makes an all too fleeting appearance as an American journalist. Now, this is an English movie after all, so obviously Jim Broadbent will be in there somewhere, this time as a heinous Attorney-General determined to ensure that the truth never sees the light of day. Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, is Agent Sharma, a somewhat strange character who ultimately proves quite inept despite oozing confidence and charm – almost to the point of parody – in his role as Claudia’s minder.
The expected courtroom fireworks fizzle rather than sizzle and the action elsewhere fails to generate the tension that is needed to maintain interest. There are moments of excitement that offer glimpses of what might have been, but the momentum is never maintained by director John Crowley (Intermission, Boy A). The premise is solid, but the execution lacks punch, in large part due to the contrived screenplay from Steven Knight, who also penned the far superior Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. I mean, at one point, three key figures in the story the end up at a dinner party that just happens for no apparent reason. Certainly, Bana has shown considerable faith in the film and hopefully his willingness to take a financial risk as distributor will be rewarded, it’s just a shame that Closed Circuit fails to deliver on its potential as an adult thriller drawn from contemporary concerns around the dichotomies of secrecy and surveillance.